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EDUCATING RITA

SCHOOL-BOARD MEMBER RITA MONTERO FOUND HERSELF IN EXPLOSIVE TIMES IN THE SEVENTIES.

And a search of the victims' homes turned up a slew of incriminating evidence, including a wiring diagram for a bomb, batteries that had been taped together and some heavy-gauge wire.

"I cannot accept the idea that the people in the vehicles were innocent victims," says Kirk Long, the former head of the detective division for the Boulder County Sheriff's Department. Long, now a criminal-justice instructor at Arapahoe Community College, recalls that tests showed that in both explosions, the occupants of the cars were in the process of arming the bombs when they went off by mistake.

The day after the second explosion, the 23-year-old Montero tried to bluff her way past security guards posted outside Alcantar's hospital bedroom. According to news reports at the time, she falsely represented herself as Alcantar's sister.

Today, Montero explains she was just trying to get into the heavily guarded hospital to see her injured friend.

"I don't think it was a lie," Montero says. "I felt he was my brother. We called each other carnal and carnala--brother and sister. It wasn't a family thing, but in terms of our relationship as friends, that's how we referred to each other."

The next day, a Colorado state police officer pulled Montero over in what news reports described as a "routine traffic stop." After talking briefly with the patrolman, she jumped in her car and fled toward Boulder on U.S. 36. Police caught and arrested her at the Baseline Road exit. When they searched her car, they found an egg timer in the back, which they said could be used in the manufacture of a homemade bomb.

Montero, whose picture appeared on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News after her arrest, was charged with eluding police and other violations, according to news reports. She later pleaded guilty to speeding, and the other charges were dropped.

Montero says there was nothing sinister about the egg timer. Two weeks before the bombings, she says, she'd been working at a community center for migrant farm workers in Fort Lupton and had met two young boys who were using the timer in a card game they were playing. The boys told her they'd borrowed it from a cook in the town and asked Montero if she would return it for them. Montero agreed, she says, but then neglected to run the errand, and she carried the timer around in her car until the day of her arrest.

Authorities launched a massive investigation into the two bombings, which involved investigators from the Boulder police, the Boulder sheriff's department, the CU police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"Our best recollection is that we had insufficient evidence to consider filing charges against any living person," says Bill Wise, first assistant district attorney in Boulder. "Any persons that we might have had sufficient evidence to charge were deceased."

Many law enforcement officials involved in the case say they don't remember why Alcantar was never charged in the second bombing, since he was in the station wagon at the time of the blast, gave an allegedly false story to police and had suspicious material recovered from his home. "I don't recall why," Long says. "I just can't give you an answer."

But one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, says authorities had a number of reasons for not bringing any charges against him. Alcantar had already suffered the loss of a limb in the blast, the source says, and the evidence against him was far from ironclad. And authorities worried that a trial in the politically charged case might turn Alcantar into a "martyr," exacerbating already strained relations between whites and Hispanics in the area.

Alcantar could not be reached for comment. But Montero says the fact that he was not arrested shows how flimsy the police theory of the case was. "If they had anything substantial, I think they would have pressed charges," Montero says. "They never did anything."

In July 1974, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver convened a federal grand jury to investigate the bombings. Several witnesses, including Montero and the widows of two of the bombing victims, were subpoenaed to testify.

But Montero and the others refused to cooperate with the investigation. Claiming the grand jury probe was an illegal attempt to harass and intimidate Chicanos, they filed suit to block it in U.S. District Court. Joining the suit were UMAS, the Crusade for Justice and a group called the Denver Chicano Liberation Defense Committee. Federico Pena, the future mayor of Denver and now U.S. Secretary of Transportation, was one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

The day the witnesses appeared in court, about 200 Chicano protesters picketed outside the federal courthouse. According to news reports, Montero and the others declined to answer any questions before the grand jury.

Montero says today that the reason she wouldn't cooperate was that the authorities were conducting a one-sided investigation. Police, for instance, never pursued a report that two white men were seen throwing an object into the car destroyed in the second explosion, Montero says.

"People believed--and I was one of them--that we had put a number of other issues in front of them to investigate," Montero says. "They made no attempt to do that. Their focus was entirely on the friends and family of people who were the victims. We weren't going to cooperate with that."

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